This is an enjoyable collection of 19 linked short stories, of the sort of urban fantasy that mixes the ethereal and mundane. Just right for nighttime reading.
De Lint is a prolific Canadian author who has written many books set in the fictional city of Newford, of which this is the first; most of the stories were originally published in magazines in the late 80s and early 90s. They tend to feature bohemian types – artists, writers, musicians – and street people, encountering magic beneath the surface of everyday life. Many of the stories feel like modern fairy tales. For the most part I found them very satisfying reading, hitting all the right notes: sympathetic and believable characters, good writing and interesting plotlines that come to satisfying conclusions. Not every author can write a complete story from beginning to end in 20 pages, much less create reader investment in such a short time. De Lint can. It doesn’t hurt that some of the characters recur, but although every story can stand alone, I did not find the re-introduction of characters too repetitive.
The majority of De Lint’s protagonists are female, and although one begins to notice similarities (waif-like beauty, tragic or mysterious pasts), they are interesting characters who form friendships with each other and don’t revolve around men – indeed, Jilly, the closest the book has to a protagonist, isn’t attached to a man at all. De Lint does less well with minority characters, however; the one black character is a mute fortune-teller, and the story with a Latina narrator is full of forced and awkward uses of Spanish words and cultural references. My least favorite stories, however, were the two originally appearing in horror anthologies; that’s simply not my cup of tea. And another story beats readers over the head a little too hard with the “child abuse is bad!” stick. Finally, there are occasional mistakes that one more pass by a copyeditor could have corrected.
Overall, this gets 3.5 stars that could easily be rounded either way. I enjoyed this book, with its mix of bohemian life and the supernatural, and would consider reading more De Lint in the future.